FCC to dump stations, give spectrum to smart phones

According to the Daily Tech Blog, the FCC announced the formation of its spectrum task force to drive the implementation of the agency’s National Broadband Plan (NBP). A key component of that plan is to claw back some 120MHz of TV spectrum and reassign it for use as wireless delivery. Broadcasters will be invited to participate in “incentive auctions,” which could result in stations getting some portion of the auction revenue. The remainder of that money would be used by the FCC to fund its NBP. The NAB responded by saying, “We cannot endorse this proposal.”

FCC’s Copps clings to control

No friend of broadcasters, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said recently with regard to net neutrality, "I think there are powerful players that are opposed to it, that are in a position to make their influence felt,” according to Enterprise Networking Planet. Copps is an outspoken advocate of net neutrality but, so far, is the only commissioner who has spoken out in favor of reclassifying broadband as a regulated Title II (telco) service.

A recent court ruling basically told the FCC to back off trying to regulate service providers. In response, Chairman Genachowski has said that the court’s actions would not have much impact on what the FCC intends to do. He said future commission actions would be based on a "solid legal foundation." Said Copps with regard to implementing net neutrality, “None of this stuff gets solved without taking on a fight. Government doesn't work that way."

Audiences and Hollywood embrace smart phones

Although today’s handset device audience is small, both Hollywood and the broadcast industry see the future as increasingly being driven by smart phone viewers, according to the New York Times. Currently, Flo TV is the primary provider of television-like mobile services.

The formation of a joint venture of key broadcasters — Belo, Cox Media Group, Scripps, Fox, Gannett, Hearst Television, ION Television, Media General, Meredith, NBC, Post-Newsweek Stations and Raycom Media — was announced at this year’s NAB. The plan is to pool spectrum from Fox, NBC, Telemundo and ION and develop a service that will reach about 150 million U.S. consumers.

Hollywood also wants to ensure it's not left out of any smart phone-delivered video revenue potential. Other aggregators, including newbies like Bitbop and old-timers like Blockbuster, are already in play. Blockbuster now rents movies for new films for $3.99 for a 24 hours.

Both CBS and NBC have free applications for smart phones, which permit mobile viewing. According to Nielsen, almost 18 million people watched video on smart phones in the last quarter of 2009. The average viewing time per month was more than three-and-a-half hours. Broadcasters want to be included in this new revenue opportunity.

Will the Internet kill TV?

In a recent article by Jim Louderback, he argues that the Internet is the next TV station. Louderback is CEO of Revision3 and formerly vice president of Ziff Davis Media and editor-in-chief of "PC Magazine" and PCMag.com. His bottom line viewpoint is that cable TV providers succeed because they bundle channels and charge for the whole group of them. He notes that print has unbundled and predicts that cable TV will too. “Why pay for the whole thing, when you can just read the articles you want online for free?”

“Cable TV is next. Why should I pay $75 or more for 500 live channels when I only watch around 15 regularly? That works out to around $5 a channel, a month, by the way, a princely sum that only ESPN, HBO and Showtime meet or exceed from cable ops — and ultimately customers. But I pay for those 500 channels via affiliate fees, meaning I support ESPN, Comedy, Disney and Nickelodeon — which I’m happy to pay for — along with Hallmark, Fox News, Animal Planet and 482 others I couldn’t care less about.”

Care to bet he still buys the local Sunday paper?

Tektronix acquires SyntheSys Research

Tektronix has completed the acquisition of privately-owned SyntheSys Research. According to eetimes.com, details of the transaction were not released.

SyntheSys Research has been a player in the digital test and measurement field for more than 10 years. Based in Menlo Park, CA, it manufactures high-speed digital signal test and measurement equipment for broadcast, network content networks, computer, storage and equipment manufacturers.

GPS is 10 years old

Ten years ago, a former military technology was released for consumer use. Global positioning system (GPS) satellite technology was modified for civilian use. Prior to this time GPS signals carried an interference signal called, “selective availability.” This kept nonmilitary applications from using the technology.

Once the interfering signal was removed, a whole new range of consumer products became available, not the least of which are GPS-enabled cell phones and car GPS systems.

$18,000 cell phone bill

Imagine the surprise of opening your cell phone bill and seeing that you owe the phone company $18,000. According to cnet, that’s what happened to Bob St. Germain some four years ago. It seems that St. Germain’s son discovered that he could connect his computer to the Web through his cell phone. Because the service was faster than his family’s dial-up service, he kept his computer tethered to the cell phone for long periods of time. It wasn’t until his dad received the first cell phone bill for $12,000, that anyone in the St. Germain household knew anything might be wrong.

Despite what must have been heated conversations with the cell phone company, Verizon, the bill remained. In fact, by the time the dad called, another $6000 in charges had been racked up by his son.

Despite Verizon agreeing to reduce the bill by half, St. Germain is adamant that the phone company had some responsibility to warn customers of such account activity. St. Germain told the "Boston Globe," "If there's extreme activity on your account, they should let you know. Nobody should get surprised like I did."

Howard Waterman, executive director of public relations for Verizon responded to the Globe, "We also provide numerous tools through the Internet to manage your family's cell phone use, including the ability to: set voice and messaging allowances and receive free text alerts when a family member nears or reaches their limit; designate specific times when a family member can't call, message or use data on his/her cell phone; create lists of blocked phone numbers to prevent unwanted calls and text messages from being sent/received."

The bill remains unpaid and now resides with a collection agency.

May 19 update. Verizon has issued a public statement: “Despite making a substantial adjustment to the customer's bill in 2006, we concluded last week the remaining balance was uncollectible, wrote it off and consider the matter closed."